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The Devil's Footprints

3.33  ·  Rating Details ·  255 Ratings  ·  49 Reviews
Michael Gardiner has lived in Coldhaven all his life yet still feels like an outsider. Married but rather distant from his wife, he reads in the local paper that a school friend, Moira Birnie, has killed herself and her two sons by setting their car on fire; but she has spared her 14-year-old daughter Hazel. Michael uneasily recalls his past connections to Moira. As teenag ...more
Hardcover, 240 pages
Published January 22nd 2008 by Nan A. Talese (first published March 1st 2007)
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Better the devil you know than the devil you don't

Opening: Long ago, in Coldhaven, a small fishing town on the east coast of Scotland, the people woke in the darkness of a mid-December morning to find, not only their homes were buried in one of those deeper, dreamlike snowfalls that only happen once or twice in a generation, but also something strange had happened while they slept, something they could only account for in rumours and stories that, being good, church-going folk, they were ashamed
Jun 28, 2015 Michael rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: signed-signiert
„Etwas Besseres als den Tod findest du überall“, so lehren uns die Bremer Stadtmusikanten, aber kaum ist die letzte Silbe des Märchens verklungen und Mutter hat den Buchdeckel geschlossen, da stehen wir schon von Zweifeln umringt: wann war das Leben das letzte Mal so einfach, wann auf einen so griffigen Nenner zu bringen; sind Märchen vielleicht „nur“ die kleinen Geschwister der Lyrik, die eigene Mittel hat, schwer Fassbares begreiflich zu machen, der Komplexität des Lebens gerechter zu werden, ...more
Jun 20, 2015 Steffi rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Wie bei Banvilles erstem Roman, dem Haus der Stummen, hatte ich hier manchmal den Eindruck, dass Müßiggang, ermöglicht durch einen gewissen Wohlstand, die Menschen auf dumme Gedanken bringt. Die Hauptfigur, ein junger Mann, lebt abseits eines kleinen schottischen Ortes, direkt am Meer, in einem größeren Haus. Während er über den Selbstmord einer Jugendliebe grübelt, von dem er aus der Zeitung und von seiner Haushälterin erfährt, erinnert er sich an einen tödlich verlaufenden Konflikt mit einem S ...more
May 23, 2016 Elaine rated it liked it
I'd give this one 3 1/2 if I could -- parts of it had the promise of greatness. Crisp sharp writing that turns an unexpected corner and makes you go, wow. But there were moments of waxing philosophical that just didn't work, and odd plot inconsistencies that marred the careful tightness of the book.
Dec 17, 2013 Alan rated it liked it
Shelves: novels, 2013
3.7 stars to be accurate. I liked the writing, precise and poetic (good on weather, birds, limepits, bullies, villagers and houses). I liked the 'descent into madness', I liked the way the writer withheld information until just the right moment, keeping you hooked. But the plot seemed a bit of a mish-mash of various other books I'd read, mainly 'Lolita' (acknowledged). But a nice afternoon read (about 200 pages)...
Sep 08, 2016 Frankie rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: dont-like, 2015, scottish
I just couldnt get into this.
Feb 05, 2015 John rated it it was ok
I should have loved this book, and I'm not really sure why I didn't. The writing's excellent; it's the kind of dark psychological tale that normally appeals to me; it's even set in Scotland, the country of my birth -- "my territory", in other words.* And yet somehow, except at intervals, I simply couldn't immerse myself in it.

Michael Gardiner is stuck in a heartless marriage in the family home his parents bought to get away from the natives of Coldhaven, who mindlessly, motivelessly and implacab
Michelle Greenwood
Jul 19, 2009 Michelle Greenwood rated it it was amazing
Shelves: horror
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Aug 09, 2016 Heidi rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I was let down by this. I love Burnside, the way he writes is always poetic and eloquent and I'm always amazed at how he manages to talk about gruesome and horrible things in a way that makes them seem almost beautiful. I expected to be 'Burnsided' again while reading this and I just wasn't. The writing was beautiful as always but the story didn't entirely convince me. A few of the philosophical discussions in the book I really enjoyed though and the beginning was very promising. I kept picturin ...more
Apr 06, 2011 Alex rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Very enjoyable book, found by chance on a bargain table at the local bookshop. Burnside's style is sparse but poetic; I liked it. The story is interesting and doesn't follow the rules of a bestseller - there is no major climax towards which everything builds up. The protagonist looks back on the past with feelings of regret. The lasting impression is that nothing has been resolved but life must go on.
Konstantinos Chrisafis
Simply beautiful. John Burnside never disappoints.
Außerhalb von Coldhaven, einem wenig spektakulären Städtchen an der schottischen Küste, lebt Michael Gardiner mit seiner Frau Amanda ein wenig spektakuläres Leben. Tief unter der Oberfläche seiner beinahe beschaulich anmutenden Existenz liegt zwar ein dunkles Geheimnis. Aber das hat er beinahe selbst schon vergessen. Er hat sich dort am Rande der Welt eingerichtet, wo schon seine Eltern Zuflucht gesucht hatten vor der kaltherzig-bornierten Feindseligkeit der Leute von Coldhaven. Nicht nur unter ...more
Aug 18, 2014 Christie rated it liked it
Although John Burnside is a prolific and award-winning writer (he is one of only two poets to have been awarded both the T.S. Eliot and Forward Poetry prizes for his collection, Black Cat Bone and in addition to over a dozen volumes of poetry he has written non-fiction, novels and a screenplay), The Devil’s Footprints is my first encounter with him.

Michael Gardiner has lived in Coldhaven, a seaside town in northern Scotland, his whole life. His parents were distant, creative people: his father a
Perry Whitford
Oct 06, 2015 Perry Whitford rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I always think it's always a good idea to read a novel by any author who is primarily a poet, a view which this compellingly written first person narrative of family secrets and tragic events in a remote, coastal Scottish town has done nothing to dispel.

The devil's footprints relate to an old folk story about cloven hooves in virgin snow, seemingly originating from the shore and discovered in the streets and across the rooftops of Coldhaven, the small fishing village where the action is set.

Ernest Junius
Jun 01, 2015 Ernest Junius rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: art graduates
Shelves: tragedy
If you asked me about Burnside's writing I'd give you 5 stars.

I'm not sure about the story. Not sure that I like it; not sure that I find it interesting; not sure that I feel comfortable reading it; not sure that I actually learn anything from it.

Story aside (I want to talk more about the brighter side of the book: Burnside's writing style), I think the book are filled with strings of brilliant proses and syntaxes. Sometimes it could get boring though—not sure if it's the side effect of the stor
Jun 01, 2016 Zena rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Final Rating 3.5/5

"I used to believe the dead travelled away, out to some great distance, as they decayed, over weeks, or months, or years....I though the dead went back to nothing, breaking down slowly, like fallen leaves..."

I was a bit disappointed with this. I first fell in love with Burnside's writing when I read The Dumb House. This book is written just as eloquently but the story fell a little short for me. There was too much emphasis on his childhood and not much on the story with Hazel.
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Jan 03, 2012 Bondama rated it really liked it
This is an excellent book, although I don't think it quite comes up to the level of "The Glister." The central character takes a journey with a 15 yr old girl whose mother has recently set fire to her own car and burned herself and her two younger children. This oldest girl, she left in the forest. Now, this girl may or may not be the principal character's daughter (most probably not) - but, as it turns out, she is simply manipulating the protagonist to get to where and with whom she wants to be ...more
Jan 07, 2015 Jaykayrisque rated it really liked it
Very unusual, I thought. Growing up an only child of a couple seen as interlopers in the bleak, picturesque,and also threatening environment of a remote Scottish fishing village, the narrator's eventual response to an unreconcilable situation - foreshadowed by extreme events which are never in any real way resolved, is described in language that is concise and emotive in description, but never heavy to read. The result is subtly convincing, considering what actually occurs. I've noticed reviews ...more
Eliz Mananadhar
Aug 20, 2015 Eliz Mananadhar rated it really liked it
John Burnside is a terrific poet and a novelist. I haven't read his poems as yet (but I can tell they are wonderful), but have read three of his novels until now and they are all dark, dreary gems. In The Devil's Footprints, the narrator is a classic Burnside protagonist- lonely, serious and utterly dark. He is plagued by the miseries of his past and present. An existentialist novel in many ways, the narrator is besotted with a 14-year-old girl a la Humbert Humbert, who he believes doesn't reall ...more
Jan 21, 2016 Buffone rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
There are not many authors who write as beautifully about often terrible things as John Burnside does. Unlike some writers who deal with violence, addiction, death or abuse he is never sensational and often painfully honest To compare him to a musician might lead to Nick Cave. What Burnside does is writing prosaic poetry and poetic prose which is touching, insightful and while it is always elegant it is never at the expense of truthfulness and emotional accuracy. It was said in a conversation el ...more
Adam Nevill
Aug 31, 2013 Adam Nevill rated it really liked it
A remarkable story of one man's emotional and psychological breakdown in a small grey Scottish town, via murder, abduction, alienation, separation ... All of the startling insights into the human condition, and a poet's deep scrutiny of landscape and memory, that you expect from Burnside's prose are also in place here. Reminded me of Nabokov's Lolita too; and Burnside is a novelist who writes about uncomfortable subjects without flinching. Sixth novel I have read by this author and they have all ...more
Alisha A
Apr 16, 2016 Alisha A rated it liked it
Shelves: literary-fiction
Style over substance perhaps? I love John Burnside's poetic writing and the atmosphere he conjures; his writing is fantastically crafted. However this book was meandering and although I appreciated the beautifully dream-like way he wrote, the meaning of the story was often swallowed up by Burnside's endless descriptions. Overall, I preferred his novel 'Glister', which not only evoked a deliciously dark atmosphere, but integrated its interesting symbolism into an equally interesting plot.
Jan 07, 2015 Albertine67 rated it really liked it
This is the first of Burnside's novels that I've read, but definitely not the last. He is a magnificent writer, and there were a number of poignant scenes as well as some genuinely uncomfortable moments. It was an intriguing story and I read it in two sittings. The evocation of the landscape, light, birds was very atmospheric. The ending was quite perfect, with the protagonist, indeed the rest of the world, isolated and unconnected - nothing changed, nothing learnt.
Mar 16, 2010 Steve rated it liked it
Starts out interestingly (reminded me of early Ian McEwan), but in the end seems to be a mish mash of events w/out any of it really coming together in the end. Unlike some others here, I found his writing to be over-blown, not beautiful (he is a poet first and foremost). Disappointing, and I won't be reading any of his others books.
Eva Mitnick
Apr 22, 2009 Eva Mitnick rated it liked it
Shelves: grown-ups
A hapless man has a sort of inexplicable mid-life crisis involving a girl who might or might not be his daughter. The writing is just fine (the author is well-known as a poet) and there were some really intriguing sections, such as the narrator's relationship to his small town, but the plot failed to move me. 4 points for the writing, 2 points for the plot - average 3 points.
Nov 30, 2010 Jill rated it really liked it
Beautifully written and compelling story, fascinating characters... everything you want, all wrapped up in a neat package. Took all of one day to read, but still sticks with me; I guess that's what 'haunting' means.
Jun 18, 2008 Ateran added it
Beautifully written, insightful and just a little bit twisted. It had some similarities and allusions to Lolita which I liked. The ending was a little anti-climatic but fit the overall tone of the book.
Apr 02, 2008 Angie rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Couldn't tell if the over-usage of commas was purposeful or not. Too many commas really bug me.

Other than that, it started off good but I think it got increasingly worse as the book progressed. Still ok though.
Tämä ei ollut vaan mun "juttu". Kirja ei ole huono, jotenkin sen englanti vaati ehkä likaa minusta tai sitten mulla ei nyt ole oikein innostusta tähän. Etsiskelen joskos löytyisi suomennettuna. Jäi kesken.
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John Burnside is the author of nine collections of poetry and five works of fiction. Burnside has achieved wide critical acclaim, winning the Whitbread Poetry Award in 2000 for The Asylum Dance which was also shortlisted for the Forward and T. S. Eliot prizes. Born in Scotland, he moved away in 1965, returning to settle there in 1995. In the intervening period he worked as a factory hand, a labour ...more
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